By Josh Speer / March 28th, 2017
|Title||Blaster Master Zero|
|Developer||Inti Creates Co., LTD|
|Publisher||Inti Creates Co., LTD|
|Release Date||March 9th, 2017|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch and 3DS|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
It’s worth noting that I never played the original Blaster Master, which is strange since I tout myself as a retro gaming fanatic. That said, I have a lot of faith in Inti Creates, so when I saw they were remaking the NES classic into Blaster Master Zero, I was very interested. That interest burned even hotter when I saw it was making its way first to the Nintendo Switch, which has quickly become my favorite new handheld. So when I got the opportunity to tackle this updated classic, I was more than excited. The question is, is Blaster Master Zero the definitive version of Sunsoft’s classic game?
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is living deep underground to avoid the damage wrought by the destruction of our environment and a cataclysmic ice age. Our story begins hundreds of years later, with humanity trying to restore Earth to its former glory, when our valiant hero, Jason Frudnick, discovers a strange frog-like animal and begins to study it. They mention that Jason is a robotics expert, which makes it a little confusing he’s so interested in a biological curiosity, but I would venture a suspension of disbelief is necessary when dealing with any classic story from the NES era. What matters is setting the tone, and Blaster Master Zero does so wonderfully. This is a world on the verge of renewal, where discovery and menace are in the air. When Fred suddenly escapes thorough a mysterious wormhole, Jason makes chase and finds himself before the legendary Sophia III. Taking refuge in the tank, Jason sets off into a mysterious world in his quest to find Fred, and quickly finds there is more at stake than he realizes.
From some research I did on the original game, I can say with confidence that Blaster Master Zero got a nice graphical coat of paint. Things like the cutscenes look amazing, while the basic organization is optimized to make everything easy to understand. That said, it is also incredibly faithful in its approach. I watched a playthrough of the first area of the game, and the same area is incredibly close stylistically in Zero. It still looks like a NES game, but has modern flourishes that make it prettier. And even though Inti Creates went out of their way to make a game that has what older players expected from Blaster Master, they also added a lot of content to make the game world feel significantly larger. That playthrough I mentioned was able to finish the game in about an hour and change, while my time spent with Zero was more than 5 hours. They not only added new areas, they added a bunch of harrowing boss battles, easy to access save functionality and even threw in a new weapon or two! For the Switch version there is even a two player option (though I didn’t get a chance to try this out). It’s a hefty amount of content for such a retro game. The standard to which I hold this remake would be comparing it to Metroid: Zero Mission. It’s that well done.
What impressed me right off the bat was how creative and unique the gameplay was. It’s hard to believe how ahead of their time Sunsoft was when they made Blaster Master, since it successfully married both 2D metroidvania style platforming and top-down shooting sequences. Those gameplay styles not only don’t usually mesh well together, but one of them didn’t become mainstream until a couple of decades later. The flow of the game revolves around riding in the Sophia III, finding caverns too small for it to enter, then disembarking as Jason to find upgrades, such as new sub weapons, and incredibly handy area maps (I doubt these were available in the original). The game itself is broken up into several different areas, each with a different theme, such as a frigid ice region, an industrial maze and even an aquatic nightmare. One way that all this exploration is simplified is with the radar that tells you where you have to go next. However, you are given leeway to tackle things in your own order, and can even turn off the radar if you want to explore, which the game design encourages.
It’s a vast world and all you have to protect yourself is a remarkable tank and a multi-purpose gun. Much like how exploration is split, so is combat. While you can leave your Sophia III and fight on foot in the 2D portions, you’re far weaker and much more vulnerable to the giant beasts hunting you. It’s much safer to stay in your tank while you can, using the massive multidirectional cannon to blast foes away. In the top-down segments, you only control Jason and make use of his sub weapons and his Blaster Rifle. The reason it’s unique is that your health dictates how powerful it is. For example, if you go around unscathed, you can make use of a powerful Wave shot that stuns enemies and passes through obstacles, which is utterly devastating. Get hit once though, and you lose access to it and have to rely on the lower level gun attacks, such as the Flamethrower, Penetrator and Striker to name a few. This forced me to play strategically and cautiously, since taking a hit meant I temporarily lost access to my most potent attacks. Luckily, you can find items to boost your Blaster Rifle level as well as your health, otherwise I fear the combat would have felt a bit too old school and hardcore for some.
Besides the standard combat, Blaster Master Zero is also rife with fantastic boss battles. Some are required and some are totally optional, though beating one always gets you a nice upgrade. Each and every boss battle feels totally different and is a challenge in its own right.
Especially fun were the 2D boss battles, which found ways to handicap you for riding around in your Sophia III, such as the fight against the Central Gear boss that moves around, forcing you to use your tank’s Hover capability to get close enough to his eye. I enjoyed all the bosses, and the final boss of the game truly gave me a run for my money, forcing me to try repeatedly until I got his patterns down and was able to claim victory.
The art design may be a mixed bag for some. I personally loved it, as it was highly reminiscent of the GBA era, full of bright colors and tiny, intricate designs. It appeals to us nostalgia whores in a big way, but that may not be for you. However, the one area of the game the is indisputably superior is the music design. From the very first level, I was hooked by the pulse pounding rhythms of the game. This is, quite simply, the best of the NES era. Blaster Master Zero is full of chiptune greatness, and the music never got dull or felt out of place. It perfectly suits the tone of the game and kept me motivated at all times.
The game controls, likewise, are also retro perfect. Any NES game worth its salt featured simple yet tight controls, and Blaster Master Zero is no different. It couldn’t be easier or more intuitive to run around and blast things, and when new abilities are introduced, such as Hover, the game does a good job of explaining how to utilize them. But if you aren’t paying attention, you can always go to the pause screen to double check the controls, which is always a great feature. My only minor complaint is that the game didn’t explain how many gun attacks were at Jason’s disposal early on, but I quickly figured it out by making use of the Weapon screen.
Though the plot is pretty basic, I found it more than sufficient to keep me invested in Blaster Master Zero. What could be a simple story gets a twist when Jason comes across a strange amnesiac girl named Eve. I won’t go into spoilers, but her involvement is a highlight of the game. As an added bonus, you can chat with her for hints about how to best utilize your weapons. Besides that, she serves as a sounding board for Jason as he explores this dangerous world. I’m pretty sure Eve is new to the game, since she seems particularly reminiscent of some past Inti Creates characters. Either way, her personality and design are fantastic, which makes her a welcome part of the story.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Blaster Master Zero. This is indisputably the definitive version of the classic Sunsoft game. Inti Creates has poured their heart, soul and artistry into making a game from 1988 not only relevant again, but a must-own title for any Switch (and eventually 3DS) owner. I truly enjoyed my time with the game, especially once I realized that the ending I got wasn’t the only one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to jump back into the Sophia III and go find that best ending!
Review Copy Provided by Developer
Blaster Master ZeroInti CreatesMetroidvaniaplatformerRemakeRetroSunsoft